1k Post: Sharing Part of My Journey
Hey there, CC. It's been somewhat of a tradition for the regulars of CC to make "1k posts" containing some valuable snippets (or small novels-worth) of poker knowledge upon reaching their 1,000th posts. I wanted to keep up this tradition, since I see it as one of the keys to what makes CC so great. Not this tradition in particular, but the overall culture of CC that constitutes constant support, encouragement, and giving back. So the following is my attempt to "give back" to the CC community that has given so much to me.
I know that I'm not even nearly the most knowledgeable player on CC, nor the most talented. I cannot post some great finding that will help you check-raise bluff the turn better, and I definitely can't provide insight into what middle and high stakes poker is really like. But I didn't want to half-ass this either and just say "yay, 1-kay!" I wanted to give something that had meaning to me. *cue back-story music*
Over this past summer I began to take poker more and more seriously. As a college student, summer is by far when I have the most time, so I was able to really grind out decent volume (by my standards) and study poker theory as well. But I began to realize that tilt and mental game were huge factors holding me back (and destroying my winnings). I decided I would take my mental game seriously, and I committed myself to doing so on another forum, creating "Scourrge's Mental Game Thread." (Not sure if I'm really supposed to put the link in here, but I'm happy to share with anyone interested.)
I started the thread on June 7th, 2012. I used Jared Tendler's book, the Mental Game of Poker, and other resources, as well as personal reflection. I had ups and downs, of course, and made some progress. But then I hit a bad downswing while shot-taking 25nl, and this downswing followed me even as I dropped back down in limits to 10nl. All in all, I eventually dropped a total of 30 BIs during this downswing. I'd like to share a post that I made in that thread while I was partway through that downswing. It deals with some of the topics that are often avoided by the majority of poker players who take themselves seriously: tilt, larger-than-life leaks, mental game, failure. But it's also sharing more of me. So while I can't offer the advice of the century, I hope that what I offer of myself will be worth some measly fraction of what CC has given me.
So here it is, in all it's unedited glory (except for a few smilies I had to change due to different forums having different smiley-types). The day was September 9th, 2012, and I had only been back in school a few weeks, during which I had started the most epic downswing of my career to date...
Some Brutally Honest Discussions, Musings, and Reflections
I'm going to be brutally honest in this post. But I want to start with sort of an anti-disclaimer here. Sometimes I might warn that "I just came off a shitty session, I'm steamed so this update might not be so great."
But I'm not tilted or steamed right now. Or at least, not of an immediate kind. I'm the sort of "tilted" that comes from understanding that you have less than 1% the ability you used to think you have. The kind of "tilted" that kicks you in the balls repeatedly and doesn't stop until you are on the ground sobbing your eyes out and laughing too because holy hell, things have been like this so long that it just seems silly that it hasn't stopped.
Ok. That was a slight (very slight) exaggeration. But that's where the exaggeration stops. That's the anti-disclaimer. Everything in this post, while not of an unemotional birth, is based on a relatively long amount of time, input from peers, a lot of reflection, and a lot of disappointment. So bear with me. It's all true, and won't be stretched for entertainment purposes (though I'll try to make it as interesting as I can).
The Recent Past, Poker Style
I'll try to keep the parts of this that overlap with past posts brief. Essentially, I have been at 10nl for a while, and shot-took 25nl a bit ago. I promptly lost 10 BIs, and decided I would not be approaching 25nl again until I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 BIs for it. Since then, I have gone on my second worst downswing in my poker life, and it's a close second. The current state of my downswing is -15 BIs at 10nl over a span of about 2.5k hands. For funsies, here's my graph (at 10nl only) for the past 6.7k hands:
Yep. It's kind of beautiful in a way. I mean, a really sick way, but like... Okay maybe it's just sick to think that. Here's a freakishly similar looking graph, generated by EV++'s Variance Simulator (http://www.evplusplus.com/poker_tools/variance_simulator/)
Kind of terrifying, isn't it. I only had to click a few times with the settings where they are to find a graph that looked extremely similar to mine, with a similar downswing or larger. And my win rate might not even be 4 bb/100. At this point it's all speculation, but my "win-rate" at 10nl over the 19k hands I've played there is only 1.02 BB/100 (2.04 bb/100).
Another, kind of fun, way of looking at this horrible time at 10nl is the fact that I haven't made "profit" off it in a long time. My breakeven stretch right now is over 15k hands. That means that right now, my total profit is at $38.86. The FIRST time that my graph was at +$38.86 or above was at approximately the 3k hand mark.
Yes, It Sucks, But What Does This All Mean?
Variance is a bitch. Basically I've been on an emotional roller-coaster with regards to poker for weeks now, and the main reason is that I started off running "too good" at 10nl. I won way more than I "should have been," and now I'm losing way more than I "should be" and it kind of eventually sort of cancels out to your real win rate. Then again this only comes in the long run (and by the way, the long run doesn't exist - it exists at time = infinity -> sucks, doesn't it?).
The other reason I'm losing so much is that my mental game hasn't made nearly as much progress as I wanted it to. More on that in a bit. The main point of the first part of this is to remind myself and everyone: Every time you are sitting at a poker table, real or virtual, and you think to yourself "Can I possibly run this bad?!" or "I can't run this bad, I'm the unluckiest person ever!!" try to realize that, oh shit, yes, you CAN run this bad and it's not even WEIRD. I found myself faced by multiple of each of these: flush < flush, flush < FH, set < set, overpair < overpair. And I would sometimes think "This can't POSSIBLY happen AGAIN!!" But it can. It did. It does. It WILL.
It's not extraordinary. It's not even abnormal. Does it suck? Oh yeah. But it's the one part of poker you can expect to never change. Because there will always be 52 cards. And the number of ways in which that deck can deal out a bad beat to you is of an impossibly incomprehensible size. So get used to it. Everyone else has all those ways of getting bad beats too.
Sadly, I am not referencing that awesome, Christmas-time Eddie Murphy movie. I want to introduce a concept that I found interesting at first, but I'm starting to see is absolutely crucial to appreciating variance, and why playing +EV is so much more important than anything else. I hope that this concept alone is going to help me decrease my stress and frustration over coolers, bad beats, and a whole host of other situations.
Imagine this scenario: You are sitting on the button in a $25NL FR table with KK and effective stacks of 100bb. A relatively loose aggressive player opens from MP and the action folds to you. You know that this villain doesn't fold too often to 3bets from LP, and he even throws out occasional 4bet bluffs as well as stacking off preflop as light as TT and AQs so you decide to make a standard 3bet with your kings. He tanks for a little then makes a standard sized 4bet. You tank, trying to decide on the optimal move. Your options are of course:
2) 5bet small
3) Go all in
I really hope you decide to go all in. Folding is clearly not an option against this player. All info indicates that if he was 4bet bluffing he will probably fold to your 5 bet no matter it's size, and that he will call you down pretty light (compared to KK) if you go all in. So you should shove.
You go ahead and tank-shove (everyone loves a good Hollywood with kings), your opponent wastes no time snap-calling, you have that second of discomfort in your gut as you see his AA face up. The board brings no help and you lose 100 bb. "Man, I run so bad!!" "What a cooler!!" "How do I hit the top of his range here?!?!?!"
Before we flip the table along with our computer, monitor, speakers, and books, let's stop and consider something. What would have happened if you and the villain switched places? I don't mean if you had a personality switch and suddenly started talking like Cruella Devile. I mean what if you and the villain had been seat-switched before the hand started and were dealt the same cards the same way at the same table. Would anything different have happened?
Probably not. The simple truth is that except in the most extreme and bizarre cases, if AA and KK are dealt at the same table (approximately a 0.2% chance, or 1 in about 488 at a 10-handed table) the players holding those cards will end up with all their money in the middle preflop or on the flop. So in a sense, this hand doesn't affect your winrate. For those of you saying "but KK is the second most profitable hand - we derive a large percentage of our win-rate from it!!" Yes. But we don't derive much of our win-rate from AA going all in against KK, because it "cancels out" with the times we have KK in against AA. This may seem counter-intuitive, but we make most of our money with AA and KK by playing them against people playing hands they shouldn't be. People stacking off TT, AQ, KQ, or paying us off when they hit top pair of queens on the flop and our overpair holds.
Essentially, if everyone played the same hand in the same situation the same way, no one would win, and we'd all become poor from paying rake. We'd literally only be subject to the variance of the cards. Therefore, we determine that the most important hands (and oddly enough, the ones that win us the most money) will be the hands where something "different" happens. What does this mean? It means that in the AA vs. KK hand above, it was impossible for anyone to play sub-optimally (this means given that we can't see our opponents cards, we make the best mathematical/psychological decision). Therefore, really, no one wins.
It means we need to make fewer mistakes. Playing KK that way and getting it all in and losing wasn't a mistake. Stacking off with 72o is always a mistake (okay technically not ALWAYS.) So how do we ensure that we win at poker in the long run? We make the fewest mistakes, and the least costly ones while encouraging our opponents to make more, and more expensive ones. Essentially, there's no reason to get in a hissy fit about a bad beat or a cooler, because when the positions are reversed you'll just be getting the same treatment.
I had an epiphany recently while talking to some poker buddies on Skype. For the sake of breaking up the monotonous format of this post, I'll paste the convo in.
[9/8/12 11:34:29 PM] *scourrge: well I need a short anecdote here
[9/8/12 11:34:31 PM] *scourrge: bear with me
[9/8/12 11:34:35 PM] *scourrge: cause I'm still thinking
[9/8/12 11:35:00 PM] *scourrge: when I was 4 years old, I learned how to play chess, b/c the eastern european ladies who ran my daycare brought in a chess master to teach the kids.
[9/8/12 11:35:35 PM] *scourrge: the teacher thought I had potential to be good, and I ended up taking lessons with him, played in tournaments, was good enough to place at states, went to nationals one year
[9/8/12 11:36:36 PM] *scourrge: I "retired" at the age of 9, in the third grade, because I wasn't willing to put in the work to be really, really good. as good as I could be. I vividly remember my dad talking to me, telling me that if I wanted to be as good as I could (and I liked winning more than losing), I had to put in the actual practice
[9/8/12 11:36:45 PM] *scourrge: and I didn't want to. I didn't enjoy it. so I quit.
[9/8/12 11:37:34 PM] *scourrge: super fast forward to poker. I'm decent, I obviously have some vague semblance of talent to be able to have made a little money over a sample, but I've hit a brick wall, and I know exactly what it is.
[9/8/12 11:38:04 PM] *scourrge: I know for a fact that my number one issue by far is my mental game, but I know that the hard work/overwhelming size of the problem is something I hate.
[9/8/12 11:38:46 PM] *scourrge: so I have to decide if setting poker on pause and working on my mental game is worth the enjoyment I will get out of poker after working on my mental game.
[9/8/12 11:38:54 PM] *scourrge: or I can quit/cruise.
[9/8/12 11:39:02 PM] *scourrge: ok, yeah that was def an epiphany.
Heavy stuff. All this time and all I've learned is that I'm lazy and I don't like working to get better?? Well, yes and no. What I've learned is that I love poker. But I don't love working on my mental game (let's be honest, who honestly enjoys therapy?). And since that's by far my biggest leak, that's what needs fixing first.
But when I first realized this I was extremely disheartened (sadface - epiphanies aren't supposed to be disheartening!!). Because the concept of "mental game" isn't just huge in the sense that it's important. It's huge in the sense that it is multi-faceted as well. I started to panic a little. "What do I work on first in my mental game?! How the heck am I supposed to fix every problem?!?!?!?!?!" Etc.
But as I ran my -7 BI session today to bring me to the current state of my downswing, and reflecting on people saying "sounds like you are being results-oriented" (about said downswing as well as situational losses), I began to realize that there is an absurdly logical, albeit blisteringly difficult plan of approach that I could take to dealing more effectively with my mental game.
Coming to terms with variance will be, I think, the single most important development in my overall poker game
, IF I can conquer my issues with it. Hopefully more to come on this later in the thread, but I know I've already dragged this out long enough. This post didn't end up being nearly as vehement as I'd imagined, partially because I was multi-tasking while writing, and partially because I did even more reflecting while writing.
I'm not really sure exactly where I go from here. I don't have nearly as much time to spend on poker as I wish I did, so progress will likely be abysmally slow. And while I plan on going back to Tendler for some help with this, I didn't find the book to be as enlightening as I'd hoped. Sure it has some useful strategies and insights, but the book is too general to be used in the place of a mental/life coach. It offers strategies like injecting logic, but I don't want strategies for at the table, I want to eliminate my variance-based unhappiness by getting right down to the root of it. A clean break, so to speak.
It won't be easy. But I love this game. And I love winning. And I'd love to be winning at this game for a long time, and right now this aspect of my game is what's holding me back most. So here we go. It's sort of weird because while I feel as if I am starting a "new" journey, I'm really just back where I started, but with more experience, a better plan, and significantly less free time on my hands.
This should be interesting indeed.
So there you go. I know it was long, but hopefully I brought something of interest to some people on CC who don't necessarily think as much about this aspect of the game. And hopefully it provided some more insight into me, and what's brought me to where I am.
In addition to the blast to the past, I'm also using this post to say that anyone who ever wants to discuss mental game/tilt should feel free to take it up with me. While I'm no expert, I can say that mental game is something I've put a lot of time and thought and energy into, and it's something that I'm always willing to talk about more.
I want to end this post before I make it into a novel (oops, too late! ), but I'll part with this: Thank you CC for a fantastic first 1,000 posts, and here's to another few 1,000 on the way!!